A Lion Born with a Scepter


Genesis 49:8-12 (text); Luke 2:8-14; Matthew 2:1-12; Revelation 19:11-16
Rev. Nollie Malabuyo • December 9, 2012 (Pasig) • December 23, 2012 (Salem, OR)

Download PDF sermon

In the late 12th century, Richard I became King of England. Because of his reputation as a great military leader and warrior, he was also popularly known as Richard the Lionheart. He was such a great warrior that by the age of sixteen, Richard was in command of the army of his own father, King Henry II. Richard spent most of his reign as a central Christian commander of the Third Crusade to the “Holy Land,” together with King Philip II of France. In many battles during this Crusade, he was victorious against his Muslim counterpart, Saladin, but was not able to retake Jerusalem. His military exploits led a Muslim enemy to describe him, “Never have we had to face a bolder or more subtle opponent.”

Richard I had the heart of a lion: mighty, fearless, cunning, the king of the jungle. But there is a man in our text who is described as a “Lion-King”: a mighty Warrior-King who will earn praise from all peoples, and whose kingdom shall prosper. Our text is part of a long chapter in Genesis when the patriarch Jacob gathered his twelve sons and gave his last words to each of them before he died. He describes their past actions, good and bad, and then prophesies their descendants’ future. He reminds them of God’s promises to Abraham their grandfather, and that each of them has a part to play in the building of God’s chosen nation.

The Tribe of Judah by Marc Chagall, lithograph, 1964 (click to enlarge)

The Tribe of Judah by Marc Chagall, lithograph, 1964 (click to enlarge)

Many of Jacob’s descriptions and prophecies of his sons are negative—especially those of Reuben, Simeon, Levi and Zebulun—and are actually curses, not blessings. In contrast, the children of Judah and Joseph will be blessed. Theirs are also the longest blessings, making up about half of Jacob’s speech, verse-wise, 10 of 27 verses for the two sons alone.

Judah’s blessings can be divided into three parts: as a great warrior and king (verses 8-10a); as the king of many peoples (verse 10b); and as the king of a prosperous kingdom (verses 11-12). And all of these point to the person and work of a coming Messiah in the person of Jesus.

Our theme today in the third of our “Christmas in Genesis” series is “A Lion Born with a Scepter,” under three headings: first, To Conquer and Destroy His Enemies; second, To Be with His People; and third, To Establish a Prosperous Kingdom.

To Conquer and Destroy His Enemies
Judah is the focus of our study today. If you’re familiar with the events in Judah’s life, you will be asking, Why is Judah the object of God’s blessings? Judah was born to Leah, Jacob’s first wife. Later, all of Jacob’s other sons, except Benjamin, became so jealous of Joseph who was Jacob’s favorite because Jacob also loved his mother Rachel, Jacob’s second wife, more than Leah.

When Judah’s brothers decided to do something about Joseph, it was Judah who suggested they sell him into slavery rather than kill him (Gen 37:26-27). What else do we know about Judah? After Joseph was gone, Judah married a Canaanite woman, with whom he had three sons. His first two sons married Tamar, another Canaanite, but both died. Afraid that his third son would also die if he married Tamar, Judah did not give him to Tamar. After Judah’s wife died, Judah unknowingly slept with Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute. Realizing what he had done, Judah confessed his sin “She is more righteous than I.” Out of that relationship was born twin boys, Perez and Zerah (Gen 38).

This series of life-transforming events in Judah’s life was evident after Jacob’s family went to Egypt to flee the famine in Canaan. The slave son Joseph was now the Prime Minister of Egypt, and Joseph wanted Benjamin to remain in Egypt until the other eleven brothers came back with their father. Risking his own life, Judah offered himself as a substitute for Benjamin.

This is why Jacob portrays Judah as being “praised” by his brothers, “your father’s sons shall bow down before you” (verse 8). This is fitting for Judah, because his name means “praise” (Gen 29:35). Jacob was only repeating his father Isaac’s blessing on him (which should have been Esau’s):

Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you! (Gen 27:29)

But not only will his brothers praise him. He is also a mighty warrior who will hold his vanquished enemies by their necks. He will conquer his enemies, and they will fear him, just as all animals in the forest fear the lion. He is like a lion who captures and devours its prey, then crouches as if to rest, and no other animal dare to disturb his rest (verse 9). So Judah as a conquering lion is common in the Old Testament, “like a lion among the beasts of the forest … and tears in pieces, and there is none to deliver … and all your enemies shall be cut off” (Mic 5:8; see also Num 24:9; Ezek 19:1-7).

So we see from Israel’s history that the mighty warriors of Judah were always at the forefront of the nation’s wars against its enemies. Before they entered the Promised Land, Moses also blessed the tribe of Judah in words similar to Jacob’s blessing, “Hear, O Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him in to his people. With your hands contend for him, and be a help against his adversaries” (Deut 33:7).

The Judahites always led the battles in the conquest of Canaan (Num 2:3; Jdg 1:1-2).

Verse 10 is one of the most well-known passages in Scripture:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.

The “scepter” and “ruler’s staff” are identical and symbolic of the power and authority of a king. The king usually holds it between his feet as he sits on the throne. The next line, “until tribute comes to him” (ESV) is the bone of contention in this whole passage. It is variously rendered, “until Shiloh comes” (NASB, KJV, ASV), and “until he comes to whom it belongs” (NIV, RSV, Septuagint; see also Ezek 21:27). Which is it and what is its meaning?

To be sure, some scholars say it refers to the removal of the ark of the covenant from Shiloh by King David who was from the tribe of Judah (1 Sam 4:4). But this is not likely, since Shiloh is not even mentioned in the Bible until the time of Joshua (Josh 18:1), five centuries after Jacob.

The Hebrew literally says, “until Shiloh comes,” but what does “Shiloh” mean? If the two meanings above are combined, the phrase would fit the context, “Shiloh” is the coming One to whom Judah’s scepter and ruler’s staff belong. This is why among both Christian and Jewish authors, the word Shiloh is another name for the Messiah. But this does not mean that when the Messiah comes, the rule of Judah will end. It means that Judah’s rule will come to a glorious time of its eternal and universal fulfillment.

“Shiloh” is also derived from a word that means to be “at rest” or “peaceful.” If it refers to the Messiah, he is one who gives rest. So the Messiah from the tribe of Judah will not only be a mighty, powerful king, but a king who gives peace and rest.

After he called his twelve sons, Jacob said to them, “that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come” (Gen 49:1). The literal rendering of “days to come” is “last days” in both Hebrew and Greek (Septuagint). Judah is actually prophesying events leading to the last days. And the climax of the last days is the coming of “Shiloh,” the Messiah.

Because of Judah’s transformation from a wicked brother to one who was willing to sacrifice for his brother’s and father’s sake, his son Perez by Tamar became the ancestor of Boaz who was the ancestor of King David (Matt 2:3-6; Ruth 4:18-22). So Jacob was actually prophesying that in the days to come, kings would arise from the tribe of Judah, starting from David to Solomon to Judah’s other kings, and finally to Jesus who is the promised Messiah.

When Christ finally returns from heaven, he will fulfill God’s covenant promise to David of an everlasting kingdom ruled by his Son (2 Sam 7:12-17). We see the preeminence of Judah’s Messianic headship even in Revelation 7, where John lists the church, the “servants of our God,” symbolically as the twelve tribes of Israel: the tribe of Judah is listed first, even though he is not the oldest son. Christ, who was “the Lamb that was slain,” is also the conquering “Lion of the tribe of Judah” who leads the church in its war against its enemies (Rev 5:5). As he comes down from heaven, he is described as a mighty Warrior-King riding on a white horse, leading the armies of heaven. With a sharp sword from his mouth, the Word of God, he will destroy his enemies in his wrath (Rev 19:11-16).

And although Jesus is now in heaven, he continues to rule his people, teaching them, and interceding for them.

To Be with His People
The Ruler who was promised to come from the tribe of Judah is also the One whom the angel promised to be born of Mary is called “Immanuel,” because he is “God with us.” He is God who became flesh and “dwelt among us.” So when Herod asked the leaders of Israel where the Messiah is to be born, they knew it was in Bethlehem in Judah, because of Jacob’s prophecy and Micah 5:2:

And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel (Matt 2:6).

This Jesus who is the divine Messiah would be born in a lowly manger as a lowly baby of lowly parents. His first visitors after he was born were lowly shepherds, who carried shepherd’s staffs, not royal scepters. As he preached his gospel throughout Judea and Samaria, he carried a traveler’s staff, not a ruler’s scepter.

"Joseph Finds the Silver in Benjamin's Sacks" by Claes Moeyaert, 1627 (click to enlarge)

"Joseph Finds the Silver in Benjamin's Sacks" by Claes Moeyaert, 1627 (click to enlarge)

But like Judah, he was willing to sacrifice his own life for his brothers and sisters. He willingly shed his blood on the accursed cross for the sins of his people. On his way to Calvary, he carried a tree, figuratively a “scepter” of sacrifice. Unwittingly, his enemies declared him “King of the Jews” on the cross. His reward for his obedience was his exaltation in his resurrection, ascension, and his session at the right hand of his Father in heaven. Now as King of the universe, he holds a scepter between his feet, just as Jacob had prophesied.

By his work on the cross and rising from the grave, he has conquered his all enemies: Satan, sin, and death. He is now reigning as King of his kingdom, the Church. The work of his hands was sufficient for our eternal redemption and glorification. Because of this, we too are conquerors of Satan, sin and death. We are able to wage war against them through his Spirit. And just as Moses interceded for God’s chosen nation Israel, Jesus would pray for his people, the church, and Yahweh would hear his prayer.

From his throne in heaven, the Messiah continues to wage war against his and his people’s enemies. He has been plundering Satan’s house of slavery since he rose from the dead, because by his resurrection, he has conquered and bound Satan the “strong man” (Matt 12:28-29). All those redeemed from Satan, sin and death are being built up into the house of God, a glorious kingdom. David’s fallen and ruined kingdom is being restored to a greater kingdom (Amos 9:11–12).

This glorious kingdom is made up of all nations whom God will give to him as his inheritance. In the last part of verse 10, Jacob prophesies that the Lord will give to him “the obedience of the peoples.” Even now, Christ gathers his church from “every tribe and language and people and nation” on earth (Rev 5:9). All the people in his kingdom will be willing and obedient citizens, just as David prays, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psa 51:12). When God gives his people a new heart and puts his Spirit within them, he promises, “I will cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezek 36:26-27).

You are citizens of the Kingdom of Christ. Are you lovingly and willingly obedient to Christ your King, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who holds the royal scepter? Do you serve him with joy and reverence? Do you serve his people with love and compassion?

Christ will reign from heaven until all his enemies are under his feet. And when his kingdom is completed, Christ will return from heaven to completely defeat Satan, sin, death, and all his other enemies. At that time, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil 2:10-11). All his enemies will cower in fear at the sight of the mighty Lion of the Tribe of Judah seeking his prey. After this final victory, he will “deliver the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15:24-26).

Jacob’s prophecy will then be completely fulfilled. Shiloh, the Prince of Peace, will finally give eternal and universal peace and rest to his people. He will establish his kingdom in the new heaven and new earth, where all nations will be at rest, when there will be no more tears, death, mourning, crying or pain. Our longing in this world to see God and to be with God will be finally fulfilled, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:1-4).

To Establish a Prosperous Kingdom
Not only will Jesus the Messiah come to give peace and rest to his people. In verses 11-12, the kingdom he will establish is described as one of unimaginable and extravagant prosperity.

Wine, the symbol of prosperity, blessing and joy, will be as common as water. The Messiah will tie his donkey to a choice grape vine without concern that his donkey will eat the delicious grapes. Wine will be of such abundance that his people will not even worry about washing their clothes with wine! This is in keeping with the later description of David’s kingdom as one of an abundance of grain, fruits and people (Psa 72:16). The restored kingdom of David, which is the church, is also described as flowing with wine, fruits and prosperous cities (Amos 9:11-15).

Continuing this imagery of abundance is the physical description of the Messiah. Because of the abundance of wine, his eyes will be red or dull from wine. There will be so much milk to drink that his teeth will always be white.

Thus, this King, this Lion of Judah, will usher in a time of indescribable feasting, abundance and joy, in addition to a time of peace and rest. So even now, he gives us a taste of his feast whenever we come together for worship. First, Christ feeds us to our complete satisfaction with his Word. Then, he nourishes and strengthens our souls when we eat the bread and drink the wine when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

He invites us to his feast, reminding us that the day will come when all the saints will be eating and drinking when the wedding supper of the Lamb will be celebrated in the new heaven and new earth. On that Day, there will be so much wine that everyone will be truly satisfied, because the Bridegroom is the Lion of Judah himself, who is able to create wine from water, as in the wedding feast at Cana!

The Lion of Judah came on the first Christmas night two thousand years ago to conquer, not with the sword, but with his death on the cross for your sins. By his death, he defeated Satan and all his enemies. And by his resurrection, he conquered sin and death.

Jesus descended from two of the most unlikely ancestors, Judah, a deceitful, immoral man, and Tamar, a Canaanite. Both of them were transformed by the Holy Spirit from sinfulness into repentance, so God can use them to continue the line of the Messiah.

Do not think that God cannot use you because of your weaknesses or insufficiencies. Many in the line of Jesus were flawed just like you, even heroes of the faith such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses and David. Solomon and most of Judah’s kings in the line of Jesus were wicked. But this does not mean that God cannot use the spiritual gifts that he has given you, for these gifts are truly meant to be used for the building up of the kingdom of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.


Related Articles: